Artist: Cailleach Calling
Album Title: Dreams Of Fragmentation
Label: Debemur Morti Productions
Date of Release: 11 March 2022
The Cailleach is an entity from Gaelic myth, with a literal translation of ‘old woman, hag’. The Cailleach is associated with the creation of the landscape and weather, particularly the stormy, cold weather of winter. There is, apparently, a softer, warmer side to the Cailleach too, that tries to provide care to nature and animals during the winter months. And the reason why I am beginning this review with this lesson in Gaelic myth, is because the Cailleach and the music of Cailleach Calling could not be better bedfellows, as I shall attempt to explain.
Formed around a year ago in the heart of the worldwide pandemic, Cailleach Calling is a trio that features some familiar protagonists amongst the streamlined ranks. The entity was put together in California by the Dawn Of Ouroboros duo of Tony Thomas and Chelsea Murphy. On this record, Thomas handles the guitars, synths, and the bass, whilst Murphy takes care of the vocals. Ukrainian drummer Yurii Kononov rounds out the three-piece. With reasonably average cover artwork, I probably wouldn’t have even checked out ‘Dreams Of Fragmentation’, the debut from Cailleach Calling, had it not been for the Dawn Of Ouroboros connection. Thankfully though, my instincts didn’t let me down on this occasion, and I have been duly rewarded.
Described as ‘atmospheric and progressive black metal’, Cailleach Calling certainly create an interesting final product, a soundscape that bears little or no real resemblance to the visuals on the front cover, which is a photo of a city at night, the lights shining brightly against a star-studded sky. It’s all very intriguing, leading to a sense that, when I press play, I have very little idea of what I’m likely to hear.
As it turns out, I find myself pleasantly surprised.
If anyone read my recent review of Tundra’s ‘A Darkening Sky’, you’ll have read all about my general dislike for deliberately lo-fi production, usually the preserve of the black metal scene. If not, please check it out as it gives some useful context here. And that’s because the only major gripe I have with ‘Dreams Of Fragmentation’ relates to the production. Admittedly it is nowhere near as bad as some of the offerings of some ‘trve’ black metal, but it does disappoint me unfortunately. The music across the four tracks on this record are generally incredibly appealing and interesting – more on them shortly – but the album is cloaked in a very lo-fi production that means that you can’t hear the various instruments in anywhere enough detail. At times, when the synths come into the songs with real force, it’s nigh on impossible to hear anything else because they take over. In general, it all feels a little distant, muffled, and indistinct.
At this point, I will readily accept and recognise that this is almost certainly a deliberate decision taken by the trio of Cailleach Calling. I also understand the reasons for this conscious choice. But that doesn’t stop me from wishing the album had been given a clearer production. Others will almost certainly disagree with me, but this is where I personally stand.
But enough of the quibbles over the production because they should not detract wholly from the music on ‘Dreams Of Fragmentation’, the area in which Cailleach Calling absolutely excel. Four tracks spread across 40 minutes should tell you a lot about this debut. The band isn’t interested in presenting us with easy to digest four- or five-minute blasts of extreme music, oh no. Instead, they have chosen to create four long compositions that take their time to explore their chosen soundscapes. It suits the music perfectly too, because it is most definitely full of atmosphere, almost other-worldly at times, and hypnotic also. The songs are sufficiently varied to maintain the attention of the listener, but they also spend as long as they need to create a certain atmosphere, or invoke a certain feeling, be that something aggressive, or something a great deal calmer. In terms of the latter, Cailleach Calling have cleverly infused their black metal with plenty of serene, beautiful ambient sounds and textures too.
A cacophony of fast riffing, blastbeats, and almost inhuman shrieks and screams confronts us from the very beginning, as Cailleach Calling waste no time in making their presence known. But the aggression is tempered by swirling synths that weave in and out of the almost incessant barrage of black metal aggression, layering the tumult with a sense of cosmic calm and serenity, but also unsettling darkness too. Finally, when the blasts cease, they are replaced by a hypnotic mid-tempo section where the vocals lower to almost subterranean levels. From there, there’s a more pronounced ebb and flow to the pace, whilst the synths come ever more to the front, to bathe the song in their elegant glow. Regardless of the production quality, I find myself drawn into the song, as if I have no power to resist, and the band do that largely through the strong melodies and textures that they create along the way.
By and large, the same blueprint is followed with ‘Bound By Neon’ but, if anything, the melodies are even stronger than on the opener. Not only that, but I find the synths to be even more beguiling and there are sections within the song when the black metal assault completely dies away in favour of an ambience that’s welcoming, almost Riverside-like with the warm guitars plucking away to a vibrant synth-led backdrop.
It is with ‘Cascading Waves’ though, the 15-minute centrepiece, that Cailleach Calling make it utterly impossible for me to do anything other than fall completely under their spell. For nearly two-thirds of the track, there is not a hint of black metal anywhere to be heard, as the trio delve deeply into ambient, minimalist territory. The results are stunning too, as the melodic intent is incredibly strong whilst being highly soothing and meditative too. When Murphy enters, she half sings and half speaks cleanly, and then, clean guitars enter alongside a simple drum beat and I’m in love; the music is just so deep and immersive. The subsequent explosion of black metal venom is all the more violent as it hits like a tsunami without warning. However, cleverly, the pandemonium is still laced with the earlier melodies, lending an air of sophistication where it has absolutely no right to be.
The final track, ‘Mercurial Inversion’ returns to the black metal battery from the start but if I’m not much mistaken, it happens to contain some of the most immediate material on the album, as well as some of the most abrasive content. The opening couple of minutes deliver no respite from the onslaught, but nearing the halfway point, the pace changes to a more infectious slower tempo, complete with lead guitar melodies that catch the ear from the very first listen.
In what feels like no time at all, 40 minutes has disappeared and I’m at the end of another spin through of this album. And that’s the biggest compliment that I can give ‘Dreams Of Fragmentation’, the thoroughly impressive debut from Cailleach Calling. An album like this can sometimes be a complete drag, where it feels very much as if time stands still. Not so here, and what’s more, when I reach the end, I want to press play again and dive in once more. Yes, the production could be better for my personal tastes, but once I got used to it, I realised that it really doesn’t detract too much from my overall enjoyment. Instead, I find myself listening intently, uncovering new things or simply allowing myself to drown in the brutal yet beautiful music that Cailleach Calling have created here. Highly recommended.
The Score of Much Metal: 89%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
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